Placekickers can play a critical role in the outcome of NFL games.
While other players can set up a kicker to make a kick to send a game into overtime or win a game, it is the kicker who must deliver in the clutch.
When the kicker does, he is the hero, mobbed by his teammates; when the kicker does not, he is the goat and scorned by fans.
More often than not, over 17 NFL seasons, when the game was on the line, Matt Bahr delivered for his team.
Bahr’s longest tenure came with the Cleveland Browns – nine seasons of consistent kicking from 1981 to 1989.
We’re Matt Bahr days away from Browns kickoff. (1981-1989) pic.twitter.com/w0cUfWvr83
— CleWest (@erjmanlasvegas) August 31, 2018
We take a look at the life of Matt Bahr – before, during, and after his NFL playing career.
The Early Years Through High School
Matthew David Bahr was born on July 6, 1956 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Bahr’s father, Walter, is considered one of the greatest American soccer players of all time.
He was captain of the United States national team and played in the 1950 FIFA World Cup, helping the United States defeat England 1-0.
Walter instilled a love of soccer in Bahr and his two brothers, Casey and Chris.
Bahr attended Neshaminy High School in Langhorne, Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia.
He graduated in 1974.
At Neshaminy High School, Bahr participated in soccer, football, wrestling, and track and field.
In 1972 and 1973. Bahr was the kicker on the Neshaminy High School football team.
As the kicker, Bahr would only practice on Tuesday nights and play in games on Friday nights.
Bahr was recruited by various colleges, including the United States Naval Academy, Penn State University, Brown University, and UCLA.
Bahr seriously considered the Naval Academy.
However, when its soccer coach retired, Bahr decided to head to State College, Pennsylvania in central Pennsylvania to attend Penn State.
At Penn State, Bahr played soccer (coached by his father, Walter) for four years and football for three years.
In discussing the transition from soccer to football, Bahr said:
“It’s not a big transition. It’s mostly similar. Yeah, there’s a couple of things you can do to make things better but that’s just too complicated.”
In fact, soccer kicking was critical to Bahr’s football kicking success, as Bahr used a “soccer-style” kicking technique (approaching the ball at an angle) that was beginning to replace “straight-on” kicking for his football kicking.
In 1976, as a sophomore (at a height of five feet and ten inches, and a weight of 160 pounds), Bahr was the back-up placekicker for Penn State.
He made three of ten field goals and four of five extra points in the regular season.
Penn State had a 7-5 record in 1976, including a 20-9 loss to Notre Dame in the Gator Bowl on December 27, 1976.
In 1977, Bahr became the starting placekicker for Penn State.
He made 14 of 24 field goals and 39 of 41 extra points in the regular season.
In the Fiesta Bowl on December 25, 1977, Penn State defeated Arizona State 42-30.
Bahr made field goals of 22 and 32 yards and four extra points.
The Nittany Lions had an 11-1 record in 1977 and were ranked fifth in the nation in the final Associated Press poll.
Bahr had his best season for Penn State in 1978.
On September 18, 1978, the Nittany Lions shutout Ohio State 19-0, and Bahr kicked four field goals (from 30, 41, 25, and 30 yards).
Bahr made 22 of 27 field goals and was perfect in 31 extra point attempts in the 1978 regular season.
He led the NCAA in field goals made and was ranked in the NCAA third in points scored (97) and fifth in field goal percentage (81.5%).
Super Bowl champion Matt Bahr was fashionable, too pic.twitter.com/nhgrZbf3rP
— The Artful Roger. Diamond of many Facets. (@Rojodi) May 5, 2020
Bahr was named All-American by The Sporting News, and first team All American by United Press International and the Newspaper Enterprise Association, in 1978.
In 1978, Penn State repeated its 11-1 record and was ranked fourth in the nation in the final Associated Press poll.
The Nittany Lions were undefeated before losing to Alabama 14-7 in the Sugar Bowl on January 1, 1979.
Penn State assistant coach Fran Ganter, who coached both Bahr and his brother, Chris (who was a kicker at Penn State before Bahr), said about Bahr and Chris:
“They were solid as a rock. Just their demeanors and the way they approached the whole thing was so impressive. They’re both so poised. Those guys were awesome. They were just calm, cool, collected, confident. Just a dream to coach, really.”
Bahr earned an electrical engineering degree from Penn State in 1978.
The Pro Football Years
After Penn State, Bahr briefly pursued a career in professional soccer.
In 1978, Bahr signed with the Colorado Caribous of the North American Soccer League (NASL).
He had three assists in 24 appearances.
During the 1978 season, Bahr was traded to the Tulsa Roughnecks of the NASL.
He had two appearances with the Roughnecks.
In 1979, Bahr signed with the Pennsylvania Stoners of the American Soccer League.
However, Bahr did not enjoy playing professional soccer.
When he was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in the sixth round of the 1979 draft (the 165th overall pick), Bahr began to pursue an NFL career.
In his first regular season NFL game, against the New England Patriots on September 3, 1979, Bahr missed his first kick – an extra point.
However, he rebounded to kick the winning field goal from 41 yards in overtime, as Pittsburgh defeated the Patriots 16-13.
In the 1979 regular season, Bahr made 18 of 30 field goals and 50 of 52 extra points (leading the NFL in 1979 in extra points made).
Bahr’s play helped the Steelers win three games in the 1979 playoffs, including the Super Bowl over the Los Angeles Rams 31-19 on January 20, 1980.
In the playoffs in 1979, Bahr made three of four field goals and 11 of 12 extra points (including a 41-yard field goal and four extra points in Super Bowl XIV).
In his second regular season with the Steelers in 1980, Bahr made 19 of 28 field goals and 39 of 42 extra points.
Just before the beginning of the 1981 regular season, Pittsburgh waived Bahr.
Shortly after the waiver, Bahr was signed by the San Francisco 49ers on September 8, 1981.
Bahr only played four games with the 49ers in 1981.
He made two of six field goals and all 12 extra points with San Francisco.
On October 6, 1981, the 49ers traded Bahr to the Cleveland Browns for a ninth-round draft pick in the 1983 NFL draft.
While Bahr would ultimately play for six different NFL teams, his longest tenure (nine seasons) would be with the Browns.
Bahr played in 11 games for the Browns in the remainder of the 1981 season.
In his second game with Cleveland, on October 18, 1981, Bahr kicked two field goals (from 34 and 19 yards) and two extra points, as Cleveland defeated the New Orleans Saints 20-17.
In a 15-12 Browns win over the San Francisco 49ers on November 15, 1981, Bahr kicked a 24-yard field goal to win the game for Cleveland.
With Cleveland in 1981, Bahr made 13 of 20 field goals and was perfect on 22 extra point attempts.
Because of a players’ strike, the 1982 regular season was only nine games.
Bahr kicked the winning field goal from 24 yards in a 10-7 Browns victory over the New England Patriots on November 21, 1982.
On December 26, 1982, Bahr kicked two field goals, from 18 and 24 yards, and two extra points, as Cleveland defeated the Houston Oilers 20-14.
Matt Bahr 1982 pic.twitter.com/gx1fiO6HbH
— Mark Humphrey (@MarkHum39586180) October 22, 2020
In the 1982 regular season, Bahr made 7 of 15 field goals and all 17 of his extra point attempts.
The December 26 win over Houston helped the Browns qualify for the 1982 playoffs.
In a playoff game on January 8, 1983, Bahr kicked a 52-yard field goal and an extra point, but Cleveland lost to the Los Angeles Raiders (who had Bahr’s brother, Chris, as their kicker in the game) 27-10.
1983 was one of Bahr’s best NFL seasons.
On October 9, 1983, Bahr kicked the winning 44-yard field goal, as the Browns defeated the New York Jets 10-7.
In a 25-19 overtime win for Cleveland over the Houston Oilers on October 30, 1983, Bahr kicked four field goals (from 37 yards twice, and from 29 and 30 yards) and an extra point.
Making 21 of 24 field goals, Bahr led the NFL in field goal percentage in the 1983 regular season.
He also made 38 of 40 extra points.
1984 was one of two years in which Bahr kicked 24 field goals for Cleveland (his highest single regular season total with the Browns).
On September 23, 1984, Bahr kicked two field goals of 18 and 48 yards and two extra points, in a 20-10 Cleveland win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
In a 23-7 victory by the Browns over the Atlanta Falcons on November 18, 1984, Bahr kicked three field goals of 27, 46, and 20 yards and two extra points.
For the 1984 regular season, in addition to his 24 field goals (in 32 attempts), Bahr made all 25 of his extra point attempts.
In 1985, Bahr’s kicking helped Cleveland earn its first playoff berth in three years.
On October 6, 1985, Bahr kicked a 44-yard field goal and three extra points, as Cleveland defeated the New England Patriots 24-20.
In a 35-33 Browns win over the New York Giants on December 1, 1985, Bahr was perfect in making five extra points.
Bahr, in the 1985 regular season, made 14 of 18 field goals and all of his 35 extra point attempts.
In a divisional round playoff game on January 4, 1986, Cleveland played the Miami Dolphins. Bahr kicked three extra points, but the Browns lost to Miami 24-21.
1986 started as another quality season for Bahr with the Browns.
Matt Bahr 1986 pic.twitter.com/yP0VLTEVGe
— Mark Humphrey (@MarkHum39586180) October 22, 2020
In a 23-20 Cleveland victory over the Minnesota Vikings on October 26, 1986, Bahr kicked the winning 22-yard field goal, as well as two other field goals (from 52 and 19 yards) and two extra points.
On November 10, 1986, Bahr kicked four field goals, from 32, 19, 18, and 21 yards, and two extra points, as the Browns defeated the Miami Dolphins 26-16.
However, Bahr suffered a torn ligament in his right knee while making a tackle in a November 23, 1986 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Because of the injury, Bahr missed the last four regular season games and the entire playoff run by the Browns in 1986 (the Browns advanced to the AFC championship game before losing to the Denver Broncos 23-20 on January 11, 1987).
Bahr ended up making 20 of 26 field goals and all 30 extra point attempts in the 12 regular season games in which he played in 1986.
In 1987, Bahr, still recovering from his injury, missed most of the regular season.
In his first game back on December 13, 1987, Bahr kicked a 27-yard field goal and five extra points, as Cleveland defeated the Cincinnati Bengals 38-24.
In describing his feelings about the game, Bahr said:
“It was a strange sensation. It was like deja vu. It just seemed like another game, but I knew it had been a long time. But standing there, knowing in my mind that I was not on a field for over a year, it seemed like I was just here last week standing on the sidelines.”
Playing in only three regular season games in 1987, Bahr made four of five field goals and nine of 10 extra points.
Bahr was the kicker for the Browns in their two playoff games in 1987.
Cleveland first played the Indianapolis Colts on January 9, 1988.
Bahr kicked a 22-yard field goal and five extra points, as the Browns defeated the Colts 38-21.
The following week, Cleveland played in the AFC championship game against the Denver Broncos on January 17, 1988.
Bahr kicked a 24-yard field goal and four extra points, but Denver defeated the Browns 38-33.
Bahr played in all 16 regular season games for the Browns in 1988.
On September 19, 1988, Bahr kicked three field goals (of 21, 29, and 40 yards) and two extra points, as the Browns defeated the Indianapolis Colts 23-17.
Against the Pittsburgh Steelers on October 2, 1988, Bahr also made three field goals, making kicks from 22, 21, and 40 yards.
He also made two extra points, as Cleveland defeated the Steelers 23-9.
In the 1988 regular season, Bahr made 24 (tying his highest total of single regular season field goals with the Browns) of 29 field goals and 32 of 33 extra points.
Cleveland earned a wild card playoff berth in 1988 and played the Houston Oilers on December 24, 1988.
Bahr kicked three field goals (from 33, 26, and 28 yards) and two extra points, but Cleveland lost to the Oilers 24-23.
1989 turned out to be Bahr’s last season with Cleveland.
In the opening regular season game, on September 10, 1989, Bahr kicked three field goals, from 27, 20, and 27 yards, and six extra points, as Cleveland routed the Pittsburgh Steelers 51-0 on September 10, 1989.
Bahr kicked the winning 48-yard field goal on October 1, 1989, as the Browns defeated the Denver Broncos 16-13.
He also kicked two other field goals (from 36 and 48 yards) and an extra point.
For the 1989 regular season, Bahr made 16 of 24 field goals and all 40 extra points (his sixth perfect year in kicking extra points in nine seasons with Cleveland).
What a finish-December 17th 1989-Cleve Stadium-OT vs Vikes- Matt Bahr for the win-Wait a fake fog in OT-Holy Crap #Browns win! Classic #Browns Game not many remember-Now that's a BIG TIME call by HC Bid Carson #GoBrowns pic.twitter.com/xbh25XfrOW
— CleveBrownsBasement (@CleveBrowns1972) August 31, 2018
Cleveland again made the playoffs in 1989.
In the 1989 playoffs, Cleveland first defeated the Buffalo Bills 34-30 on January 6, 1990.
Bahr made field goals of 45 and 47 yards and kicked four extra points.
The win over the Bills was Bahr’s last game kicking for the Browns in Cleveland Municipal Stadium.
The Browns then advanced to the AFC championship game on January 14, 1990, playing the Denver Broncos.
In his final game with the Browns, Bahr kicked three extra points, but Cleveland lost to Denver 37-21.
On September 4, 1990, Cleveland released Bahr.
While Bahr’s time with Cleveland was over, he continued in the NFL for six more seasons, which were marked by both special performances and consistent play.
First, in 1990, Bahr played a critical role in helping the New York Giants (who signed Bahr on September 28, 1990 after Cleveland released him) win the Super Bowl.
He kicked the winning field goal for the Giants in four games in 1990, most notably, a 42-yard field goal in a 15-13 Giants victory over the San Francisco 49ers (Bahr scored all of New York’s points in the game with five field goals, also making field goals from 28, 42, 46, and 38 yards) in the NFC championship game on January 20, 1991, and a 21-yard field goal in a 20-19 New York win over the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXV on January 27, 1991.
In three playoff games in 1990, Bahr made eight of nine field goals and all six extra point attempts.
Matt Bahr: 5 FGs in a 15-13 win pic.twitter.com/qv1JMnZ71t
— andrew fink (@FinkNYC) December 22, 2020
Second, Bahr, then with the New England Patriots, was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week for his play in a 34-17 Patriots win over the Miami Dolphins on November 12, 1995.
At age 39, Bahr made a 55-yard field goal (the longest regular season field goal of his NFL career) and a 47-yard field goal and four extra points.
In addition to these special performances, Bahr continued to be a consistent kicker, making 17 of 23 field goals and 29 of 30 extra points for the Giants in 13 regular season games in 1990, 22 of 29 field goals (including a 54-yard field goal in a 24-20 Giants victory over the Houston Oilers on December 21, 1991) and 24 of 25 extra points for the Giants in 13 regular season games in 1991, 16 of 21 field goals and all 29 extra point attempts for the Giants in 12 regular season games in 1992, 13 of 18 field goals and 28 of 29 extra points for the Philadelphia Eagles (11 regular season games) and Patriots (three regular season games) in 1993, 27 of 34 field goals and all 36 extra point attempts for the Patriots in 16 regular season games in 1994, and 23 of 33 field goals and all 27 extra point attempts for the Patriots in 16 regular season games in 1995.
October 2, 1994
Matt Bahr hits a game winning, 33 Yd FG as Bill Parcells and Drew Bledsoe defeat Mike Holmgren and Brett Favre (17-16)
This team might just make the playoffs for the 1st time in 8 years pic.twitter.com/QEUkNrcn32
— Boston Sports Info (@bostonsportsinf) October 2, 2020
Bahr’s last playoff game was a 20-13 New England Patriots loss to Bahr’s old team, the Cleveland Browns, on January 1, 1995.
He kicked two field goals (from 23 and 33 yards) and an extra point.
In a 41-27 Patriots loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on December 16, 1995, Bahr kicked his final NFL field goal for 22 yards.
The following week, on December 23, 1995, Bahr’s final NFL score came on an extra point, as the Patriots lost to the Indianapolis Colts 10-7.
Bahr retired from the NFL after the 1995 season.
The Years After the NFL
Bahr married Maresa.
They have two sons and a daughter.
After his retirement from the NFL, Bahr worked as an electrical engineer in Pittsburgh.
Bahr was inducted in the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame in 2015.
In reviewing Bahr’s career, it can be analyzed separately from an NFL perspective (given that Bahr played for six NFL teams) and from a Cleveland Browns perspective.
From an NFL perspective, Bahr ranks in NFL history tied for 32nd in regular season field goals made (300), tied for 90th in regular season field goal percentage (72.289%), 25th in regular season extra points made (522), and 66th in regular season extra point percentage (97.753%).
“Bottom line: Adam Vinatieri was money in the postseason, but Matt Bahr was even better.” pic.twitter.com/0PDYbtDiwF
— Art Vandelay (@nickbriganti) May 1, 2020
In addition, Bahr was the kicker on two Super Bowl winning teams – for the Steelers in 1979 and for the Giants in 1990 (where his kicking was especially critical to New York winning the Super Bowl).
From a Cleveland Browns perspective, Bahr ranks high in team kicking history.
Ok @Browns I realize that you have no logo, but can you pleeease stop using that same lame WLAF facemask that is no longer in existence!? Or just go back to the Matt Bahr single bar model? pic.twitter.com/NqeuiNPhOF
— Doug Radwanski (@dougradwanski) January 11, 2021
He ranks fourth in Cleveland Browns regular season field goals made (143), fourth in Cleveland Browns regular season field goal percentage (among kickers with 50 or more field goal attempts) (74.1%), fourth in Cleveland Browns regular season extra points made (248), and third in Cleveland Browns regular season extra point percentage (among kickers with 50 or more extra point attempts) (98.4%).
Moreover, Bahr was an important player on the Browns during their run of five consecutive playoff appearances from 1985 through 1989.
For his dependable kicking, Matt Bahr should be recognized as one of the best kickers in Cleveland Browns history.